NEW DELHI - It is not hard to imagine how the French government (or their counterparts in Athens or Washington) would dream of such a thing: escaping the monthly stress of publishing unemployment figures.
In India, the national jobless rate simply doesn't get calculated, and the topic is virtually absent from media and political debate.
If you look hard enough, though, it is possible to find an official unemployment rate, calculated... every five years, based on the collection of statistics from the National Sample Survey. The latest data go back to the period between July 2009 and June 2010, and states unemployment is only 3%. A figure so small that economists tend to disregard it completely.
The absence of data on such an essential component of economics is explained by several factors. “Historically, no effort has been made to collect this information because it was thought that agriculture would absorb all the work force,” explains Rajat Kathuria director and chief executive of the economic think tank Icrier.
Secondly, in emerging economies the notions of employment and unemployment can be blurred. “When there is a vast informal economy, unemployment is not a very relevant criterion,” Deputy Chairman of India's Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said in a recent conference. “Someone can keep working on his farm or in his shop, while earnings have collapsed.”
An idea expressed a bit differently by the economist Rajiv Kumar, the former Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI): “There is an old joke: in India, no one has enough income revenue to afford unemployment!”
In the absence of any compensation, when you have to feed your family, there is always an occasional job -- however petty -- you can find. So, sheer idleness is actually quite rare.
Finally, the third reason: the complexity of data collecting in an immense country of 1.2 billion people.
Nevertheless, the unavailability of a reliable measure of employment is “a shame for economists, I plead guilty!” admits Rajiv Kumar, for whom this absence is even more tragic as employment “is the biggest problem we have to face!”
Making and killing jobs
Reality on the ground is indeed very far from full employment. The actual problem, affirms Denis Medvedev, economist at the World Bank in Delhi, “is that underemployment is very high: do people work sufficient hours? Do they earn sufficient wages?”
Anecdotally, the spectre of real widespread unemployment is very real: one economist hints at countless men sitting, doing nothing in the streets of towns and villages across the country; another suggests that training institutes in the provinces hire university graduates as teachers for 4,000 rupees a month ($73) because these youths can find nothing else. Last month, when SBI -- the nation's biggest bank -- set out to recruit 1,500 employees, some 1.7 million applications arrived.
There might not be unemployment figures, yet job creation figures are worrying indeed. A study from the think tank Institute of Applied Manpower Research asserts that, after creating 60 million jobs between 2000 and 2005, the Indian economy did not create more than 2.8 million between 2005 and 2010. Underlining the fact that the fall of the agriculture work force (normal for India's development stage) has been entirely absorbed by the construction sector -- unskilled and seasonal jobs --, the Institute considers however that industry destroyed 5 million jobs between 2005 and 2010, after creating 12 million the five previous years.
The dramatic nature of these figures leads some economists to doubt their accuracy, but not the reality of the trend. The economic survey set by the Ministry of Finance deplores that too many profitable companies prefer using temporary workers or machines, rather than skilled workers, for long term jobs.
Indeed, large enterprises keep increasing the part of interim workers, free of social benefits, as opposed to fully entitled employees. As a result: 93% of Indian workers do so in an “informal” way, that is to say, without health insurance, retirement pensions or other basic benefits.
This could partly be explained by labor practices that are extremely benificial for those who are lucky to have permanent status: for example, no enterprise employing more than 100 people can lay off people without government approval, which is nearly impossible to obtain.
Many experts in India estimate that the real rate of unemployment may be around 20%. Yet, the Indian population keeps increasing, and 10 to 12 million jobs should be created each year -- one million a month.
But what if India cannot do it? “It is often said that Indians are satisfied with little, but it is a romantic vision,” states Rajat Kathuria. “Expectations are as great here as elsewhere. I'm scared of what could happen.”
One more reminder of the risks of trying to prevent a rising fever without a thermometer.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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